Transitioning Back Home in the United States

Hello from Houston,

As I reflect on my time as a Gilman scholar in Costa Rica, I think one of the greatest aspects I learned from my community in Heredia was a sense of humility. In my opinion, one of the most important reasons anyone should choose to study abroad is to learn how to connect to all people through a shared mutual respect. On my final exam for my Spanish course, the professor had us write an essay on what we felt had changed us most during our time studying abroad in Costa Rica. I reflected on how my perspective had changed on childhood memories I had of children in my grade school courses. I remember one student in my class who never spoke up and how some students would taunt him. It wasn’t until I had been put in similar situations of not being able to verbalize and speak my thoughts that I could perceive empathy for this child. After being that person who was sometimes silenced not by lack of intellectual capacity but rather lack of language skills, I definitely appreciate the courage it takes for other people who come to the United States without the ability to communicate in English.

I have been back in the United States for a little over a week now. I officially graduated from the University of Houston with my degree last Thursday and it has been incredibly surreal to think I completed both my program in Costa Rica and my undergraduate degree.  I cannot stop asking myself where the time has gone.



I really miss my chess family. It was emotionally challenging saying bye to people who’ve been my friends since day one. Chess will never be the same without these enthusiastic learners, but I’m certainly thankful life brought us all together through a common passion.


Before sending me off, they all signed my chess set with wishes for the future. I’ll always think of these faces when I’m thinking about my time as a student at my host university, Universidad Nacional. They taught me so much about the Spanish language and culture. Their friendship was truly such a gift.


The highlight of my return has definitely been celebrating graduation with my family.  My siblings and my parents were all lucky enough to get off work to see me walk and to also go to a celebratory dinner. It’s moments like that when I can’t believe how lucky I am to have such a supportive family. I have been so happy to be spending much-needed time with them.

Of course I also sent several photos of my graduation to my host mom in Costa Rica. She showered me in affection and congratulated me. I miss her so much already. How sweet she was to send me off with a coffee mug and a photo of us because she knows how much I love coffee. And a few weeks before leaving Costa Rica, she threw me a birthday party for my 23rd birthday! She baked me a pineapple upside down cake, and lasagna and played a CD with birthday songs to sing me happy birthday. I can’t believe she did all of that for me. I’m so grateful for having had such an incredible host mom who always made me feel safe, happy, loved and took care of me like her own daughter throughout my time in Costa Rica. I’ll treasure my moments with Mayela forever.



My 23rd birthday was one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had. Mayela baked me a cake and had a small gathering at the house. She made a huge lasagna, and salad and put on a CD of different Spanish birthday songs. Both of us had two of our close friends over and all of us had such a great time singing and laughing.


I think this photo is a great portrayal of the sense of warmth and love that filled my relationship with my host mom. She was the best part of my experience abroad and the person whom I turned to for advice with Spanish and life in Costa Rica. It was so touching that she put so much effort into making me feel so happy and special on my birthday. What’s more, she always made me feel like her daughter and for that, she will always be my second mom. I already miss her so much.


In terms of reverse culture shock, I’ve had my share of a few moments. I had become so accustomed to kissing people on the cheek when greeting them in Costa Rica that it took me two times of doing that here before I instantly became self-conscious for having done it. Luckily my friends and I laughed about it but I won’t be doing that again! The second aspect has been seeing physical changes to familiar places and people. I learned recently that my favorite tea place in Houston had been closed down. It was especially saddening because I had always associated it with my time as a student at University of Houston.

As of now, I am a proud alumni of the Gilman Scholarship Program and the University of Houston. With the language skills I’ve learned abroad, I will continue to work toward the common good in meaningful ways in the mental health field. I have been applying for mental health aid positions in psychiatric clinics where I know my Spanish would be used to serve people in the Spanish speaking populations. I’m hopeful within the coming years I can complete my prerequisites for a health professional school where I can continue toward my dream of being a bilingual psychiatric professional. I look forward to the long journey ahead with excitement for my future.



Having finished my degree in Costa Rica, I officially graduated the University of Houston on May 12th! I definitely had an incredible senior year thanks to Gilman and am so excited to finally say “I did it!”


On a closing note, it has been such an honor writing for the Gilman Global Experience blog. There is no possible way I could have studied abroad without Gilman. Thank you so much for everything!

Warmest Wishes to All,

Alexandria Rodriguez

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Filed under Alexandria in Costa Rica, Central America

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